In addition to ensuring their own compliance, produce companies like Borton also are working hard to change FSMA itself, so it more accurately reflects the industry.
Leavitt, who serves on food safety committees for the Northwest Horticulture Council and U.S. Apple Association, is working with other officials to convince the FDA to make FSMA water testing more flexible. Current regulation is based on California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement requirements. Leavitt believes these requirements are too onerous for growers of apples and other tree fruit, which are far less susceptible to disease than lettuce and leafy greens. Fortunately, the agency announced earlier this year it would take another look at FSMA water regulations.
As fluent in food safety as Wood’s Produce already was, meeting FSMA requirements did not come without its share of challenges, Turner says. One example is the Act’s language or legalese, which he says made it difficult to understand. Fortunately for Wood’s Produce, Safe Quality Food Institute materials provided crucial assistance in translating FSMA into language they could understand. “They helped us figure out where we met or exceeded requirements,” he shares. “I didn’t have to lay awake at night thinking about failing an FDA audit.”
Finding The Right Tools
Of the many challenges posed by food safety, figuring out how best to comply with FSMA and food safety protocols demanded by customers is significant. When Lotpath asked clients what kind of food safety software products they’d like to see on the market, Dodson says many requested a program capable of juggling several protocols at once.
So in addition to helping companies navigate FSMA and other requirements, Dodson says a new Lotpath food safety-specific software product could give companies the ability to do their own audits in advance of a formal audit from the FDA or a third party.
Many of the upgrades related to meeting FSMA standards require large upfront investments, says Ruiz. Database tools, automated platforms, and machines for stickering, packing, and sorting are among the more expensive. But this is nothing compared to the cost of a food safety outbreak. “No matter how expensive an upgrade,” he emphasizes, “it’s never more expensive than food that makes consumers sick or worse.”
Benefits Outweigh Risks
Meeting FSMA and other food safety requirements has certainly come at a price. Turner says sealing its building, protecting against rodent infiltration and water leaks, training its 35-member staff, and upgrading software and other technology has not been inexpensive. But these investments will pay dividends for years to come. “We can now sell to anyone in the world,” he points out. “In the future, this will only help us. We had to do it—and it’s a good investment.”